Wolves in the Throne Room @ the Annex Wreckroom, May 18th, 2009.
I stepped outside of the subway station and glanced around. Having never seen a concert at the Wreckroom before, I wasn't sure exactly what building I was looking for, but I found the fans first. About twenty guys with long hair and black band t-shirts were lounging outside, forming a lazy sort of line, and there were vans and trailers parked nearby. That was easy.
I leaned against the wall, checked my watch, and threw some Melvins on my iPod. There were at least four Burzum t-shirts in view. One girl walked up to the crowd and greeted her friend, who exclaimed something like, "what kind of shirt is that?" and pointed at her green sweater. The girl said "Boris," and her friend accepted the answer. The line began to move.
Inside, I took a look around. It was pretty small; mostly bar. I definitely prefer Lee's Palace, which was only a few doors away. Now where were the merch tables... ah, right behind me. I had been thinking of buying the album Two Hunters a couple of weeks ago, but records are always cheaper at shows than in stores, so I grabbed one. Returning to the stage area, I staked out a spot next to a couple of kids talking about Merzbow's cancelled show, and I waited.
A Storm Of Light
The first band was one I had never listened to before, so I didn't know what to expect. Honestly, I thought they were pretty good, though they struck me as a Neurosis copy. There was a projector screen behind them, showing video clips of things like hammerhead sharks and nuclear bombs. The music was very bass-heavy, and I liked the singers. The lead vocalist had a strange voice, and made me think of swamp creatures for some reason. From the second song onwards, a female vocalist was brought on, and though she wasn't amazing for the entire performance she added a lot to the sound of the band. I wasn't blown away by A Storm of Light, but they were good.
Ugh, Krallice. I had listened to this band before, and I wasn't dreading them, but I was not looking forward to them either. Krallice is an American black metal band that has been getting a lot of praise recently, and although that's not really a scene I pay attention to, I had hopes that they would at least put on a good show. It wasn't their fault that they didn't, it was the venue's. The Wreckroom sound guys really dropped the ball last night. A Storm of Light didn't sound great, but I could at least make out music. Krallice was just noise for 45 minutes, and not good noise either. Every time the vocalist shrieked something or other, the guitars would cut their volume by half. When they were playing, the constant blast of sound didn't change pitch as far as my nearly-burst eardrums could discern. I was watching the chord changes and listening closely. Nothing. It was a disaster. At least the drums sounded good.
Joe Preston's one-man show Thrones was next, and I didn't know what to expect, besides greatness. The man has been the bassist for Melvins, Earth, and High On Fire, and took part in the Boris/SUNN 0))) collaboration Altar. I didn't know what one guy with a bass and a history like that would do when he has the stage to himself, and I'm going to have a lot of trouble describing what actually occurred that hour. Agony and bliss is all I remember. Joe Preston took the stage, a big, balding man with Willie Nelson-style braided pigtails and a rainbow guitar strap. He smiled, introduced himself ("we're The Thrones"), strummed his lowest string, and I thought of SUNN 0))). I've seen Boris, but they didn't play any of their really heavy drone doom, and that's what this was. The show was about as loud as I expected. The sound vibrated the hairs on my arms and legs, so low that was just high enough for us to interpret it with our ears and not our fluttering inner organs. Thrones is built on a lot of layering, with loop pedals and triggered electronic sounds. All I remember of the first song was a deep throbbing pulse that reminded me of surf running up along a beach, but in Hell, so rather it was Hell-surf running long a Hell-beach. Then there was some really heavy stoner rock, with a drum machine pounding out an industrial beat and Preston bellowing at the top of his lungs and thrashing against his strings. For a couple of songs he used electronic vocal effects like a vocoder, and for his final performance he used some sort of chorusing effect with an octaver that made him sound like three robot angel sirens. It was bizarre, and I wanted to laugh and cry at once. Thrones: a must-see-again.
Wolves In The Throne Room
Now the headliner, and the reason we were all here. Everyone crowded in closer, and the place seemed to get twice as full as WITTR took the stage. I saw only men in the band, and was disappointed, since that ruled out a number of my favourite songs from the setlist (songs with female vocalists). They played three songs, each about ten or twelve minutes long, and I only recognized one of them, which means that the others were probably new material. The same problems that plagued Krallice presented themselves, but it wasn't anywhere as severe and they fixed it up by the second song. When they were done they just walked off the stage without saying a thing, but I was 90% sure there would be an encore. Within five minutes they were back on stage, and this time they played something I wanted to hear: Queen Of The Borrowed Light, off their first album, Diadem of 12 Stars. The concert was worth seeing for that performance alone. Like I said earlier, I'm not a big fan of black metal, but long, atmospheric, epic-sounding music appeals to me no matter what genre it's in, and Wolves In The Throne Room are fantastic both on record and seen live.
The Krallice abomination and the terrible beauty of Thrones had me worried that the concert would end on a low note, but I left the venue totally satisfied. On the subway I chatted with a bunch of guys I had never met about the show, parting ways at Yonge station, and was then left alone with my stamped hand, new record, and my poor, mistreated ears.